INSEPERABLE throughout more than 65 years of marriage, an elderly couple have been left heartbroken after being forced to live apart after a wrangle over care funding.
War veteran Joseph Graham, 92, and his wife Florence, 90, are both devastated that she is not being allowed to move into the same care home as him, despite suffering from dementia.
The pair met as children growing up in the same Deptford street and later became teenage sweethearts.
Since then the only time they have been apart is when Joseph was serving with the army during the war and when Florence had to go into hospital to give birth to one of their four children.
When Florence’s condition deteriorated earlier this year, the pair moved from their Alnwick Square home, in Farringdon, where they had lived for 53 years, to a sheltered accommodation home, in Silksworth’s Tom Urwin House where Joseph looked after his wife until he became ill himself about eight weeks ago.
Doctors diagnosed prostrate cancer and Joseph, who also suffers from diabetes, is now so ill he needs medical care and is in St Mark’s Nursing Home, in Millfield.
But, despite there being two beds in his room, Sunderland City Council’s social services say they won’t provide the funding for Florence to move into the home with him.
The couple’s son and three daughters, who are sharing the care of Florence because they say she can’t be left alone for her own safety, are devastated their parents are having to live apart at this late stage of their lives.
Daughter Eileen Robson, 55, who lives in Seaburn, said: “It is so heartbreaking, because they have never been apart. Dad is so devastated and cries because he wants mam with him. They are still so loving towards each other, when we take her to see him they just kiss and hug and he sits holding her hand.
“It is just so sad. We don’t know how long they have got, but we just want them to be together for whatever time they have left.”
Son Paul Graham, 59, who lives in Moorside, said social services are offering for carers to visit his mum in her home four times a day for tasks such as washing, dressing and providing meals.
But, he said: “That must cost quite a bit, so why can’t they use that money to pay towards the nursing home costs? As a family we would be willing to try to meet some of the costs so mam and dad can be together.”
Councillor Graeme Miller, Portfolio Holder for Health, Housing and Adult Services, said: “Mr and Mrs Graham and their family are being supported by the council through this very difficult time of illness and separation.
“We fully understand why Mr and Mrs Graham wish to be together, and we always try to help people stay together in their own homes for as long as possible.
“Mr Graham’s needs are now being met with the support of a nursing home following a stay in hospital.
“At the same time we have a responsibility to ensure that we do everything we can to maintain Mrs Graham’s independence and to avoid her needing permanent care while she is able to live at home with support, and also be helped to spend time during the day with her husband.”
Alan Patchett, director of Age UK Sunderland, said that the charity did generally support the Council’s policy.
“It does happen from time to time and is always very sad. It is a really difficult situation for all concerned.
“It’s been policy in Sunderland for a long time, which we do support, because that is generally what older people want.
“They want to live independently and they want to live at home, but they don’t want to go in to care.
“It’s sad when this situation arises and one partner has to go into care, leaving the other partner behind.
“I don’t think there are any easy answers to this situation.”